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Katsura Enyo: Sport has the Power to Change the World and Our Future

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Gold medalist Momiji Nishiya of Japan celebrates. Photo: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Katsura Enyo |

It has been three months since the closing of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games on September 5. 

Even now, I still vividly recall the stunning performances of each individual athlete during that month of heated competition.

Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, these Games were postponed for one year – the first time in history, and were held under difficult circumstances which necessitated no spectators present at the events.

Even in the face of such adversity, we were able to realise a safe and secure Games thanks entirely to the cooperation and efforts of medical professionals, Games officials, volunteers and so many individuals from around the globe. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who made this possible.

Being selected as the Olympic and Paralympic host city in 2013, Tokyo began making preparations together with a variety of stakeholders in order to welcome athletes and spectators from all over the world to our city.

The cornerstone of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was the concept of “sport has the power to change the world and our future.” One of the key goals of the Games was the creation of legacies that would be passed down to future generations. With this as a basis, we set forth to produce a memorable event.  

During planning, we initially worked to use the Games to support the reconstruction of disaster-stricken areas of Japan. Areas that were severely hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 and the Kumamoto Earthquake in 2016 would be re-invigorated through the power of sports. 

We planned for these Games to showcase the strong steps towards disaster recovery to viewers around the world and express our gratitude to the global community for their support.

Some of our endeavours included sports exchanges between youth in Tokyo and the Tohoku (northeast areas of Japan affected by the earthquake and tsunami). We also held invitational sporting events, sent athletes to the affected areas, and implemented the “1000 km Relay to Tokyo” running from Aomori Prefecture in the north of Japan all the way to Tokyo. 

Previously, we had set up “live sites” for viewing the Olympic and Paralympic events in disaster-hit areas so residents could enjoy watching the Rio 2016 and Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Games.

Finally, in 2021, the Tokyo 2020 Torch Relay, which heralded the opening of the Games, started its journey from the “National Training Centre J-Village” in Fukushima. The centre itself is a symbol of reconstruction going on in the disaster-hit area.

Regrettably, in order to uphold our commitment to a safe and secure Games amid the COVID-19 emergency, we eventually had to refrain from inviting children from disaster-stricken areas to competition venues in Tokyo. 

However, we were able to hold competitions at venues in these areas (baseball and softball at Azuma Baseball Stadium in Fukushima Prefecture, along with football at Miyagi Stadium). By holding events in these areas, I believe we gave a renewed sense of hope to the local children.

I firmly believe that through these efforts we have been able to convey our gratitude to the people of the world for their support in disaster reconstruction as well as convey that the current conditions are continually improving in these areas.

In addition, it is our responsibility to pass on a sense of solidarity among people to the next generation and continue to conduct exchanges through sports following the Games.

The six newly constructed competition venues hosted dramatic feats of athletic prowess by dedicated competitors. To ensure these stadiums where so many memorable events took place continue to bring excitement and joy, we are currently in the process of renovating them in order to pass down this legacy for future generations.

Prior to reopening these facilities, we held tours for residents as well as for local elementary and junior high schools. For instance, the Canoe Slalom Centre, for which we held a tour in November, will be reborn as a facility not only for athletic training but also for local people to enjoy water leisure activities such as rafting.

As I observed elementary school students watching a live demonstration by Takuya Haneda, Rio 2016 Olympics canoe bronze medallist, this made me feel that the future of the facility has already taken root in the community and has become an irreplaceable asset for the citizens of Tokyo.  

In December, we also held a tour of the Ariake Tennis Park where Olympic and Paralympic tennis competitions were held. Visiting students commented that “we are happy to be able to enter the venue” and that “we hope to watch a live game.”

In the future, in order to familiarise the residents of Tokyo with these facilities, we will make further plans such as multipurpose events and further cooperation with the community.

Without the success of the Paralympics, the Tokyo 2020 Games could not be considered a success. This concept, often repeated by Governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike herself, was put into place after Tokyo was chosen as the Games’ host city and we set out to promote the appeal of Para sports far and wide.

We have been holding the “No Limits Challenge” in all of the municipalities of Tokyo, allowing people to experience Paralympic sports in many different places close to where they live.

Over 1.4 million registrants, including individuals and companies, have joined the “Team Beyond” project to increase support for Para sports in Japan. Projects such as this have enlivened what we call the Para sports movement.

In addition, with the aim of further popularising Para sports in Tokyo, we have been holding special hands-on activities at schools for special needs education, allowing anyone who is interested to easily partake in such events.

The 1964 Games, also held here in Tokyo, was the first time the term “Paralympic” was used and was the first step in inviting those with impairments to play sports. Fifty-seven years have passed since then and Para sports have been steadily developing into a familiar athletic activity that anyone can enjoy.

From school children who participated in the Paralympic school cheering programme, I heard comments like “this gave me the courage to face challenges,” “the Para-athletes are cool,” and “I felt the importance of supporting one another when I saw all the coaches, volunteers and athletes.”

I am convinced that the emotions shared through Para sports would lead to the realisation of a truly inclusive society which transcends our differences through the recognition of diversity.

Going forward, we continue to connect our various efforts to future endeavours so that even more people can support and enjoy Para sports.

For the children who will become leaders of the next generation, we have also been focusing on Olympic and Paralympic education.

As one of these projects, we set up the “Global Friendship Project” to allow students to learn about the countries and regions participating in the Games at public schools in Tokyo. We have promoted the development of this programme to act as an actual international exchange.

To give children the chance to understand the diversity of the world and the importance of respecting different values leads to nurturing a richer sense of internationalism. This, in turn, will help us contribute to the Olympic Charter’s goal of “building a peaceful and better world.”

Even after the Games, schools here are still keeping in touch with other countries and regions. They are continuing to deepen their bonds of friendship. I hope to develop this programme as an educational activity that will live on long after the Olympics and Paralympics.

Through the power of sports, the Tokyo 2020 Games was able to deliver a sense of courage and hope to people around the world by uniting a world divided by issues such as the pandemic.

With the Games at an end, we now are moving to a new stage where we will continue to build on the achievements we have gained by hosting this event and thereby firmly set off on the path to realise the “future of Tokyo.”

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government aims to further develop both the “hard” and “soft” initiatives started through the hosting of the Games and build them into legacies that will live on for the city.

Through these legacies, and by continuously embracing the transformative power of sports, the Tokyo 2020 Games will be remembered in the decades to come as a turning point in Tokyo’s evolution to meet all challenges and grow together toward an active and inclusive future.

Katsura Enyo is director general of the Bureau of Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 Preparation. Since 2012, she has been deeply involved in the bidding for and preparation of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. She has held her current position since October 2021.

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.

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